Rene Depestre, Famous Haitian Writer

Haiti's most famously remembered, celebrated and praised writers seemed to all tend towards not just the literary arts, but a decidedly political activism. Whether it is the art which inspired the politics or the politics which gave way to the great art, in the case of the writings of Rene Depestre, both appear hand-in-hand, twain catalysts which drove him to create essays, novels, short stories and his famous poetry.


Rene Depestre was born in Jacmel on August 29, 1926, but, when his father died ten years later, he went to Port-au-Prince to live with his grandmother. The nostalgia of leaving his remaining family would later greatly influence his work. His debut poetry collection, entitled, 'Étincelles' was published in 1945. Just shy of 20 years old he also co-founded a magazine which would later have the distinction of having an edition seized by the government in their first year for the homage paid to Breton.

He followed up his first collection in 1946 with 'Gerbe de sang' and found time to be instrumental in the overthrowing of President Lescot. This latter act led to his arrest and eventual exile. While away in France, Depestre continued to study and found himself again in trouble with a country's government due to his activism. By this time, he'd developed a sort of notoriety that found him denied entry and systematically expelled from Cuba, Chile, Brazil, Italy and Austria.

It seemed wherever Rene Depestre went he was able to find a cause worth fighting for and writing about. While away from Haiti he wrote for journals like Présence Africaine and Esprit and created what is arguably his best loved collection, 'Un arc-en-ciel pour l'Occident chrétien'. His return to Haiti was followed by house arrest for his revived anti-Duvalier activities.

Never having learned to keep his head down in the face of Haiti's struggles, at 86, Depestre, now living in France, is UNESCO's special envoy to Haiti.

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